Tybee Island locals protest beach reopening

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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Local business owners and residents on Tybee Island are reacting to Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen beaches as a part of his shelter-in-place order.

Mayor Shirley Sessions reacted to the order that will overrule the city’s decision to close the beaches in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19; an emergency precaution that the mayor and city council established two weeks ago.

“Tybee City Council and I are devastated by the sudden directives…and do not support Governor Kemp’s decisions. The health of our residents, staff and visitors are being put at risk,” Sessions said.

The mayor initially said the access points and beach parking lots would remain closed, but a follow-up press release dictated the following mandates:

  • Tybee beaches are open to the public but tents, chairs, and umbrellas are not allowed
  • Short term vacation rental check-ins will now be allowed.
  • Restaurants with licenses for on-premises alcohol consumption are no longer allowed to sell unopened bottles of cans of beer and wine for take-out.
  • Open-consumption of alcohol is no longer banned.

Locals on the island told News 3, they are worried the reopened beaches will draw in big crowds

“In my opinion, they just loaded a gun and pointed it at the beach, I hope I’m wrong but, when they put the stay-in-place rule, the weekend following that we had 9,000 cars on the island. Every restaurant, every bar, and beach were completely slammed. This is after there had been a national warning and a state warning about social distancing,” Keith Gay the owner of Tybee Beach Vacation Rentals stated.

Laura Messenger, a Tybee Island resident, demonstrated her disagreement with the Kemp’s decision by wearing a hazmat suit in silent protest.

“It’s almost like he’s saying he does not care, and having a medically frail husband who is a Vietnam veteran, 40 percent disabled, it puts him at greater risk as it does 53 percent of our population. We are doing what we’re supposed to be doing, and when do visitor’s rights supersede the resident’s rights,” Messenger said.

Messenger and Gay both said they had seen a general lack of caution being openly exhibited in the middle of the pandemic.

“I’ve been here 20 years, I’ve been in the vacation rental business that whole time, and I don’t find that a lot of young people and people who are just coming here to use the beach pay attention sometimes to the rules,” Gay said.

Georgia State Patrol will be monitoring the beach and enforcing social distancing rules. The GSP Troop Commander, Capt. Thornell King said they will be: “…here to assist Tybee Island with anything that they need down here and that’s what we expect to do and that’s what we will do.”

Messenger said she thought Georgia’s governor needed to do more to help protect the island’s “at-risk population.”

“I would literally get on my knees and beg him to either rescind the order of opening the beaches and the hotels and STVR’s or limit access to Highway 80 to residents, and workers, and healthcare workers only. I would beg him,” Messenger said.

Local business owners and community members asked visitors to think twice before heading to the beach—asking people to focus on the safety of every community.

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